“Gerrie Coetzee was the most skilled fighter that I ever faced.”—James “Quick” Tillis
James “Quick” Tillis, 42-22, 31 KO’s also known as “The Fighting Cowboy”, was a damn good fighter and one of the more memorable heavyweights of the 1980’s. Tillis was, and still is, a charismatic, larger than life personality with a great sense of humor. During a pro career that spanned twenty three years, the big man from Tulsa, Oklahoma fought nine different fighters who, at one point, were world heavyweight champions. He also traded punches with his share of top contenders of the day. Tillis had blazing hand speed and he was extremely light on his feet for a heavyweight. Such was his speed and fleet footedness, that his former trainers Angelo Dundee and Drew “Bundini” Brown, who were also Muhammad Ali’s cornermen, would implore him to “float like a butterfly and sting like bee” as he was one of the only pupils with the ability to pull off such a tactic.
James Tillis was an excellent amateur with an outstanding record of ninety two wins against only eight losses. He was unable to make a run at Olympic Gold due to an illness that prevented him from competing at the Olympic trials. As a pro, Tillis racked up an impressive twenty wins against zero losses in just three years. Most impressive of his early victories, was a knock out of, former world title challenger, Ron Stander. His impressive undefeated record, including sixteen wins by knockout, would earn him a shot at WBA World Heavyweight champion Mike Weaver in late 1981.
Tillis dominated the first half of the fight but lost a close decision after tiring in the later rounds. This would prove to be a reoccurring theme over the next few years which was later determined to be a result of allergies in his fighters diet to milk and eggs. By the time they figured out the source of his fatigue, it was too late and he never got the chance to show his true worth. In 1986, after eliminating the milk and eggs, he gave the most talked about performance of his career in being the first man to take a 19-0, prime Mike Tyson the distance while actually winning rounds in the process.
His best win came four years earlier in 1982 when he came off the canvas to win a convincing decision against the hardest punching heavyweight in history in Earnie Shavers. In 1985, he would travel to face former champion Gerrie Coetzee in his home country of South Africa. He knocked out several of Coetzee’s teeth and sent him to hospital after the fight but lost a controversial hometown decision.
On April 23, 2015, “Quick” will be with our very own CEO/Publisher “Bad” Brad Berkwitt, at the Tulsa Celebrity Fight Night at the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All proceeds will go to Make A Wish Oklahoma.
TF: I read an interview that said you’re looking to translate your book “Thinking Big” into a screenplay. Is that still something you’re pursuing? What else has been happening in the life of “The Fighting Cowboy”?
Yes, Travis. We actually already have a “working script” (entitled “It’s a Dirty Game”) based on my life story and are actively looking for the right Film/Production Company deal. Every day, I do my best to serve The Lord Jesus Christ and walk in The Word. My wife and I moved from New Mexico to Vegas in 2012. Also, here in Vegas there are a lot of Autograph signing opportunities, so that keeps me busy. I’m not fighting anymore, but I have always been and will always be a Cowboy. I do some calf roping and team roping when the chance comes up.
TF: You arguably deserved the nod against Mike Weaver when you fought for the world championship, if you had known about your allergies sooner, and cut them out of your diet, how do you see that fight playing out?
I truly believe, I would have beat Mike unquestionably.
TF: You were around a lot of great boxing minds in your time. Who would you say is the most knowledgeable?
Drew Bundini Brown, without a doubt! I learned not only moves in the ring from Drew, but he fed my spirit and morale as a Fighter.
TF: I know you claim Shavers hits like a horse kicks but who was the most skilled technician you faced in the ring?
Gerrie Coetzee was the most skilled fighter that I ever faced.
TF: Had you not been ill, do you feel you could have won an Olympic medal and entered the pro ranks to greater fanfare, as well as receiving greater benefit on the judges’ cards in your close losses?
You better believe it! But it wasn’t even my food allergies that had me so out of it during the time leading up to The Olympic trials….I was so stupid back then… can you believe that during the time I was training leading up to the Olympic trials, I was eating nothing but salads? I had a salad that first day, and felt so good, hell I just kept on eating salad every day!! I guess my trainer didn’t know any better either. I was weaker than water during the trials.
TF: You fought so many great fighters it’s hard to imagine there were some you didn’t face, but if there was one fight you could have gotten that never materialized who would it be against, and what would have happened?
In 1985, I was in training with Bundini Brown to fight James Broad on the Azumah Nelson undercard. Azumah got some kind of diarrhea and the Fight was cancelled. Oh Man, I was so ready for that Fight! I would have kicked Broads’ ass!
TF: Boxing is full of loudmouths, other than Ali before you, who was the biggest and best trash talker of your day?
In the Heavyweight division, I like what I see in Wilder, if he had some footwork to add to his repertoire…. Man oh Man!
TF: Have you ever trained fighters or considered it?
In 2010, while in New Mexico, we founded and have operated The Quick Tillis Boxing Clinic. I have worked with some up and comers. Disappointingly, most guys these days quit, when they find out the work and dedication it takes to make it in this Game. But, I keep at it and keep saying, “One of these days, I’m going to make me a Champion”.
TF: What’s the future hold for you and yours?
Once I get this movie deal locked in, it’s our plan to return to Oklahoma or somewhere “green” and live the Ranch Life.
TF: Is there anyone you would to give thanks to?
The Almighty for giving me the Strength to be on top like I was. My sweet little Mother Rose Hawkins Tillis for always being behind me. Jim Kaulentis for being an honest manager and taking me to the top. My beautiful cowgirl, Vanessa for sticking with me through the good and the bad, for working tirelessly on my behalf and being the Team in Team Tillis. Also, check out my website at www.jamesquicktillis.com.
Professional Record: 42-22, 31 KO’s
Date Opponent Location Result
2001-04-13 Rob Calloway Saint Joseph, US L TKO 9
1999-10-16 Tim Puller Issaquah, US L UD 10
1996-08-30 Cliff Couser Vancouver, US L TKO 6
1996-06-21 Craig Payne Vancouver, US W UD 8
1995-12-07 Will Hinton Denver, US NC NC 3
1992-10-08 Alexander Zolkin Columbus, US L UD 10
1992-02-28 Stan Johnson Countryside, US W TKO 3
1991-11-22 Danny Blake Peoria, US W SD 10
1991-01-11 Tommy Morrison Atlantic City, US L TKO 1
1990-12-07 Carlton West Roanoke, US W TKO 3
1989-03-20 Adilson Rodrigues Toledo, BR L UD 10
1989-01-14 Arthel Lawhorne Auburn Hills, US L UD 10
1988-11-30 Gary Mason Southwark, UK L TKO 5
1988-07-16 Evander Holyfield Stateline, US L RTD 5
1988-04-09 Rodney Smith Las Vegas, US W KO 2
1987-10-16 Dennis Jackson Atlantic City, US W KO 5
1987-06-23 Johnny Du Plooy Johannesburg, ZA L TKO 10
1987-03-24 Frank Bruno Wembley, UK L TKO 5
1987-03-06 Ronnie Douglas Fort Smith, US W TKO 5
1987-01-08 Mike Williams Houston, US L TKO 8
1986-11-11 Avery Rawls Las Vegas, US D MD 10
1986-10-28 Lorenzo Boyd Pittsburgh, US W KO 3
1986-10-18 Eddie Richardson Mesquite, US W PTS 10
1986-09-15 Joe Bugner Sydney, AU L PTS 10
1986-07-29 Art Terry Lexington, US W UD 8
1986-06-17 Mark Young Tulsa, US W KO 8
1986-05-03 Mike Tyson Glens Falls, US L UD 10
1986-01-25 Tyrell Biggs Lancaster, US L UD 8
1985-09-07 Gerrie Coetzee Johannesburg, ZA L UD 10
1985-05-20 Marvis Frazier Reno, US L UD 10
1984-12-15 Bashir Wadud Waukegan, US W UD 10
1984-10-23 Carl Williams Atlantic City, US L UD 10
1984-08-20 Michael Bennett Miami, US W KO 1
1984-07-10 Billy Joe Thomas Tulsa, US W KO 3
1984-04-26 Bobby Crabtree Tulsa, US W KO 3
1984-02-09 Otis Bates Tulsa, US W KO 2
1983-09-23 Tim Witherspoon Richfield, US L TKO 1
vacant NABF Heavyweight Title
1983-07-09 Lynwood Jones Chicago, US W KO 4
1983-05-22 Larry Givens Chicago, US W TKO 2
1983-04-25 Grady Daniels Chicago, US W TKO 4
1983-03-28 Leroy Boone Chicago, US W PTS 10
1982-11-26 Greg Page Houston, US L TKO 8
USBA Heavyweight Title
1982-08-14 Pinklon Thomas Cleveland, US L TKO 8
1982-06-11 Earnie Shavers Las Vegas, US W UD 10
1982-03-13 Jerry Williams Las Vegas, US W KO 3
1981-10-03 Mike Weaver Rosemont, US L UD 15
WBA World Heavyweight Title
1981-03-09 Tom Fischer Chicago, US W UD 10
1980-11-13 Domingo D’Elia Chicago, US W TKO 4
1980-08-14 Mike Koranicki Chicago, US W UD 10
1980-06-12 Eric Sedillo Chicago, US W TKO 4
1980-05-15 Walter Santemore Chicago, US W UD 10
1980-04-17 Frank Schram Chicago, US W TKO 2
1980-03-03 Ron Stander Chicago, US W TKO 7
1980-02-01 Roy Wallace Chicago, US W UD 10
1979-12-13 Al Jones Tulsa, US W KO 4
1979-11-20 Harry Terrell Chicago, US W KO 1
1979-10-19 Bob Whaley Chicago, US W TKO 1
1979-09-07 Jimmy Cross Chicago, US W TKO 2
1979-07-30 Charles Atlas Chicago, US W TKO 2
1979-07-20 Henry Porter Chicago, US W TKO 6
1979-06-11 George Gofarth Chicago, US W TKO 5
1979-03-31 Rocky Lane Chicago, US W KO 1
1979-02-28 Sylvester Wilder Chicago, US W TKO 3
1979-02-02 Dave Watkins Chicago, US W KO 1
1978-12-15 Al Bell Chicago, US W TKO 1
1978-11-18 Ron Stephany Chicago, US W KO 1